Dead Man (1995)

No one can survive becoming a legend.

Original Title : Dead Man
Director : Jim Jarmusch
Writer : Jim Jarmusch
Genre : Western
Country : USA
Language : English
Producer : Karen Koch , Demetra J. MacBride
Music : Neil Young (I)
Photography : Robby Müller
IMDB ID : 0112817
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poster for "Dead Man" by Jim Jarmusch (1995)
Dead Man (1995) - Jim Jarmusch


Johnny Depp William 'Bill' Blake
Gary Farmer Nobody
Lance Henriksen Cole Wilson
Michael Wincott Conway Twill
Mili Avital Thel Russell
Iggy Pop Salvatore 'Sally' Jenko
Crispin Glover Train Fireman
Crispin Glover Train Fireman


Dead Man is the story of a young man's journey, both physically and spiritually, into very unfamiliar terrain. William Blake travels to the extreme western frontiers of America sometime in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Lost and badly wounded, he encounters a very odd, outcast Native American, named "Nobody," who believes Blake is actually the dead English poet of the same name. The story, with Nobody's help, leads William Blake through situations that are in turn comical and violent. Contrary to his nature, circumstances transform Blake into a hunted outlaw, a killer, and a man whose physical existence is slowly slipping away. Thrown into a world that is cruel and chaotic, his eyes are opened to the fragility that defines the realm of the living. It is as though he passes through the surface of a mirror, and emerges into a previously-unknown world that exists on the other side.


Fitzcassidy Spoilers herein. Good filmmakers make mistakes, because otherwise they wouldn't be taking risks. Jarmusch tries to grow here and misses. For those following the story, Jarmusch created flat irony in film. Actually, its not irony in the original meaning of the word, but according to the new popular meaning. That new meaning broadly applies (in film) to an abstract representation of life that is presented as if it were life itself. Because Jarmusch's abstractions were so flat, his work has been called deadpan, but that's only the appearance of the actor compared to what we expect. Lots of humor can be harvested from this dissonance when the abstractions are well chosen. Hal Hartley does this now, better than Jarmusch ever did. Actually, everyone with a video camera is making `ironic' films these days. And because so many genre films had pre-existing abstraction spaces, irony, camp, parody and `straight.' films now share the same space.'Ghost Dog' is worth watching for how it shifts stances among these. In that case, Jarmusch discovered meta-irony where the irony was not in the distance between what you see and what is real, but between what you see and the `normal' `ironic' perspective. You really must see that film. But along the way, he had this misadventure where he moved toward most of his peers who look to literate perspectives and quote from them rather than past film. Unfortunately, their `irony' is of a different breed, having to do with shifting the position of the narrator rather than reality proper. The merger of the two is not managed well. So we have old Jarmusch with his deadpan magical realism, and we have the `new' Jarmusch with all sorts of metaphor, explicit mysticism, the introduction of reflected poetry, the myth of the West. In the midst of all these unintegrated semantic positions is Johhnny Depp who knows a thing or two about these matters. He wisely chooses to stick closer to the old Jarmusch, wryly watching the rest just like we do. I think of him in this position as `Fitzcarraldo' meets `Butch Cassidy.' He's a lot like Kinski on Fitz on his dangerous voyage into the unknown, but with Beatlesque Sundance acceptance of fate. For myself, I appreciate the risk and don't mind the (substantial) effort of integrating it all after it has left the screen and entered my mind. All that is, except for one piece: that flatulent Neil Young score. I know that many critics zeroed in on that as the best part. I know that Young has his place in erstwhile cowboy rock. I know that for most people hip is hip and so why not assume Young is attuned to Jarmusch. But there is a huge mismatch here between Young's commentary and the various ironies that can only exist without commentary. I guess after he was finished, Jarmusch decided it wasn't working anyway so why not? Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.
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Dead Man (1995) - Jim Jarmusch
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Dead Man (1995) - Jim Jarmusch
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Dead Man (1995) - Jim Jarmusch